I recognize full well that the reformed world, particularly that portion of its unmentionables protruding out into cyberspace, is running all amok with the Federal Vision and Auburn Avenue mêlée. Did to’s and did not’s and nuh-uh’s and uh-huh’s are multiplying at a rate to make the bunnies a little jealous. What’s another blog post? A few paragraphs here is about as helpful as a water pistol in a monsoon. But all the same, here I am at the fountain of “reformedom” and I don’t mind heaving my two pennies into the aquatic piggy bank.
The Federal Vision is a conversation. The word “federal” simply means covenantal, a representative form of government, a part for whole understanding of both blessings and benefits, as well as responsibility. The conversation is a spider web of tangents and meandering side conversations that center on how the covenant is tied to salvation and the sovereignty of God.
But what I’d like to point out is that we’re all Calvinists here. We love the five points; we get giddy with excitement at the mention of the Institutes. The Synod of Dordt is, like, my favorite. We believe that God knows the end from the beginning and that in his inexhaustible goodness foreordained whatsoever comes to pass. God is not caught off guard; he is not surprised. He does everything that happens in the world; and nothing happens that is not the result of his immutable decrees. AND we believe that God uses means. God is not just a big one of us. We are not puddles while he is the ocean. We are not pebbles while he is Mt. Everest. He is the creator and we are the created. God’s decrees unfolding in the world are not like the work of a puppeteer, pulling so many strings and moving our mouths up and down. His will inhabits the order and story of the world in a mysterious, glorious way that far from restricting creation, actually enables and empowers creation to be creation. It is the love and joy and goodness of God that providentially sings the story of history filling stars and rivers and people with life and love and hunger. This means that we believe that while God is exhaustively sovereign, ruling the wild, spinning dance of every last atom from the beginning of the world to the very last second of time, at the very same time, God interacts with this creation, judging and saving, revealing and loving, hating and redeeming the world to himself. And because he is God, he is not merely playing with puppets. He is not arguing or fighting with himself. He has spun the worlds according to his glory AND that world fell into sin and misery, and he has been pleased to redeem and woo that world back to himself.
Why do I feel the necessity to defend and explain Calvinism to Reformed Presbyterians? Because I’m convinced that at least some of the extreme critics of this conversation have abandoned this central mystery and doctrine. Salvation is worked out in history. But we believe that God knows the names, birth weights, and last shoe size of every single person down from the beginning of the world to the end who trusts in Jesus for forgiveness and salvation. That number will not go up or down. It will not fluctuate with time or weather or politics. AND at the same time, it has pleased God to work in history through means. God uses people and books and circumstances and car accidents and conversations and sermons and sacraments and parents and diseases and children and employers and family pets and a million other things to tell the story of redemption in the world and draw individuals to himself. In other words, no one denies that we are saved through the completely unmerited grace of God, through faith which was not of ourselves but yet another completely gratuitous gift of God so that no one has a single syllable to boast about. This is because we are totally, completely, unassailably God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works which we did not dream up with our own brilliant minds, but which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
The point of all this simply to suggest that this whole fracas is just about these very basic things. How is salvation accomplished? Well in one sense salvation is accomplished by the immutable plan of God; the name of Carl Robbins was written in the book of life before the foundations of the world and nothing can change that. His sins were atoned for by the perfect sacrifice of Christ, and he was raised to new life and righteousness in the resurrection. But God has deemed his salvation to be worked out in history through a gazillion diverse and interrelated means, and it unfolds in God’s good timing. But God has told us some of the basic means that he uses. The central one is faith. God gives us the gift of faith, and this faith clings to Jesus Christ. And this faith so clings to him that it follows in his steps. This faith is like one of those sea monkeys in a bathtub which expands and grows. This faith sees the world as the playhouse of God, the nursery of the Almighty. And it believes the Word of God without doubting. Thus, when the word of God says that spanking is a means a grace, teaching a child wisdom and driving foolishness from his heart, we believe, rejoice, and obey. When the Word of God says that God made the world in 144 hours we believe, rejoice, and get to work on the ramifications of that. And when God’s Word says that Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are important aspects of our salvation we believe it and rejoice and obey.
Now none of this endangers any historic Christian doctrine. It’s all of grace because we already said that it’s all God’s doing, ultimately. Does God use means? Yes. This whole conversation, in my opinion, is just reaffirming this basic Calvinism. It’s all fine and good to assert that God uses means, but as soon as someone starts to name one of the means, the place comes apart. This is like a basketball coach giving some instructions on a whiteboard in the locker room and half the team freaking out when he gets out on to the court and expects them to play. Come on people, this is the game we’ve been talking about for the last 500 years. God is sovereign and rules over all. Man is responsible and free according to his nature and held liable for his actions. Trust and obey for there’s no other way, and yes that too is the gift of God. Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and man. Sola fide, sola gratia, sola scriptura, solus christus, soli deo gloria. This is the gospel, friends. The gospel is not being compromised here; only the locker room ease and comfort of some people is at stake. The Word did not enter history as a confessional statement; the Word entered history as a person, a baby with ten fingers and ten toes. As Pearl Jam once put it, “It’s Calvinism, Baby!”